The NHS and Cable & Wireless have completed the migration of the health service’s staff email systems to Microsoft Exchange 2007.

The project was the “largest ever" user migration of its kind to Microsoft Exchange 2007, according to Connecting for Health, which runs the systems.

Cable & Wireless initially took over the NHSmail contract from EDS in 2004 and replaced the EDS run mixture of bespoke software and Sun Microsystems messaging servers with a system from Mirapoint.

The NHS decided to move to Microsoft Exchange in March 2007, claiming the 2007 version of the software had a better “look and feel” than Mirapoint, and that it offered greater functionality including SMS text messages via email, which are used “extensively” for appointment reminders.

There were also better shared folder and calendar systems under the new systems, and higher security for sensitive messages including medical test results, it said.

Connecting for Health said the decision was made to move to Microsoft Exchange also because it was more scalable and cost effective.

The decision in 2004, the NHS felt the Microsoft then-current version of Exchange, Exchange 2003, was not as scalable or cost effective as Mirapoint.

After the decision was taken to move to Exchange, in March 2007, Connecting for Health and Cable & Wireless spent until late 2008 developing, building and testing the NHSmail systems. The migration of users began on 16 January and took 12 weeks. Over 350,000 email accounts were moved, covering 1,381 NHS organisations including large hospitals.

The NHS hopes that by 2011 a further 150,000 staff will sign up to using NHSmail, the email system preferred by the Department of Health for exchanging patient data.

Will Moss, NHSmail programme head at Connecting for Health, said: “The improvements to NHSmail means that NHS staff have access to a vastly improved communications tool.”

The news is a positive step following the many troubles over patient record systems, whose highly-delayed rollout has dogged the programme. Last week the NHS placed a tough ultimatum on suppliers BT and CSC, insisting they provide working systems by November or risk losing their contracts.

Other more successful elements of the programme include digital X-ray archiving and online appointment booking.